Portugal - Culinary Travel Overview
Laying claim to a prime slice of Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, Portugal has slipped from the shadow of its neighbor Spain, garnering tourism accolades and drawing visitors galore. Culinary travelers are falling head-over-heels with its vibrant colorful cities, islands and archipelagos, the Portuguese culture and, of course, its fabulous cuisine.
The Mediterranean Diet, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, is an integral part of Portuguese gastronomy and includes fruits and vegetables sublimely flavored by the warm sun and its treasured olive oil is used for cooking and flavoring meals.
Today six DOP (Denominação de Origem Protegida) protected olive oil producing regions exist in Portugal. Goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, sharply flavored and fragrant are served before and after meals.
It is fascinating to juxtapose Portugal’s history and culture with its cuisine. An ancient seafaring nation, its fishing industry remains vibrant and the Portuguese people eat more fish and seafood per capita than any other European country. Its national dish bacalhau – salted cod –is consumed with gusto. It genesis, sailors salting and sun-drying their catch to make it last the long journey home, is significant to the country’s culinary history, Today, it’s said there are 365 recipes for bacalhau – one for each day of the year.
Portugal’s history as maritime explorers and colonists – exploring trade routes to the Far East and the coast of Africa – has significantly impacted the gastronomy, most notably with spices - piri piri (small, fiery chilli peppers), black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla and saffron.
The invasion by the Moors in 711 AD, and their centuries-long occupation of southern Portugal has had a profound effect on the national cuisine with the inclusion of almonds, figs and sweets. The history of the egg-yolk desserts, a hallmark of Portuguese cuisine, being made in monasteries and convents is fascinating and Jewish influences are still seen in some foodways.
Although Portugal is a small country (about the size of the state of Indiana), it encompasses a wide range of microclimates and terrains. These conditions conspire to create some of Iberia's finest artisanal foods and regional specialties like the prized porco preto (black pig). Add talented young chefs and restaurateurs and it well-deserves it's growing reputation as a major international culinary destination.
Panorama of Pena National Palace, Sintra, Portugal
A Word About Wines
Portugal’s signature wines are synonymous with its regions. Port produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands. Produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry, lovely as an aperitif, to sweet. usually paired with desserts.
Vinho Verde – the “green wine” is not green at all but white. It is meant to be consumed young – hence the “green”. It is soft, slightly sparkling and generally has a lower alcohol content.
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